I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Exposed Guts and All: On the Silver Globe

by Jake Goldman
Dec. 28, 2012

On the topic of directorial intent in film, the Polish-born filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski once remarked: "To please the majority is the requirement of the Planet Cinema. As far as I'm concerned, I don't make a concession to viewers, these victims of life, who think that a film is made only for their enjoyment, and who know nothing about their own existence."1

One hell of a quote, isn't it? Without knowing a whole lot about Zulawski and his work, one might take offense to it. "Who the fuck is this guy to label me some victim of life? I don't know shit about the world around me because I like explosions in my movies? I can like Raiders of the Lost Ark and still have the wherewithal to contemplate the meaning of life. What a dick!" you might say.

However, a closer look into Zulawksi's work reveals that it's not necessarily you, specifically, that he's talking to. He isn't blaming you for your shortcomings or your ignorance regarding existence. He's blaming the systems from which you developed: organized religions, government; the powerful systems that control you and demand your obedience. He's right there with you, in fact--a victim, a tortured soul, a product of the ruinous systems he takes down in his work. Stay with me. I'm going to start making sense in a moment.

Everything packed into Zulawski's quote bleeds through big-time in his unfinished, unhinged, cerebral nightmare of a film, On the Silver Globe. The film's central arc revolves around the creation, and ultimate fall of a new civilization. For reasons that are not entirely clear, a group of four astronauts flee the earth in search of a new homeland (much like Zulawski himself did after his film Diabel was banned in his native Poland. He fled to France).2 They land on what appears to be the moon, though it's much more lush and atmospherically similar to the Earth. In fact, the quartet of space travelers find they can actually breathe, so long as they stay close to water. After stumbling upon this, the lone female of the group gets pregnant, and thus, the seeds of a new civilization are planted. What follows is a disjointed, hole-filled narrative telling the tale of this civilization, its struggles, gruesome battles, and its propensities towards idolatry--the citizens of this new world have been enslaved by what seem to be giant, black, birdlike creatures and are desperate to create their own Messiah-narratives in hopes that a Messiah will indeed come to rescue them all.

Some of the holes in the film's timeline were due to problems completely out of Zulawski's control. Though it is difficult to find a definitive, non-speculative answer as to why On the Silver Globe's production was shut down entirely in the spring of 1977, all signs seem to point to the then-newly-appointed Polish Vice-Minister of Culture, Janusz Wilhelmi as the responsible party. It is said that the film's anti-totalinarism undertones are what ultimately did it in. As a result, some footage was destroyed, and some was never shot. Zulawski was crestfallen, calling the film "a broken thing."3 Zulawski headed back to France, and remained there until the communist grip on Poland began to loosen in the mid 1980s. He returned to Poland to finish editing the film, inserting stock footage of modern-day Poland coupled with narration during scenes he was unable to shoot--an interesting, but ultimately confusing device.

However, there was a reason Zulawski decided to forge on with this film. Without the funds or means to finish the project, Zulawski still felt something within him that drove On the Silver Globe to completion. He could have packed it in, hiding out in France, pleasing the European art-house crowds until he died, but he didn't. He was driven to tell this story. And, though it's a difficult film, I'm incredibly happy he decided to see it through to its final, and yes, broken state.

It was his utter distaste for the aforementioned "systems" that pushed him there. The style in which this film is shot is documentary-like. In fact, in the movie, Jerzy's footage is referred to as "the memoir." Jerzy, or the Old Man, one of the founders of this civilization is the man behind the camera for nearly the entire film. He seems to be desperate to film what has been created before his eyes, trying hard to capture the absolute truth. There is no way to dilute history this way. It is recorded, in a raw, real way that captures all the ugliness of a budding civilization. In this way, there are no governments or any kinds of agencies that might filter messages and histories to future generations; the past will be presented in the rawest, realest way possible. Imagine if your U.S. History class included actual, unedited footage from what really went down at the first Thanksgiving. We may not be so inclined to load up on Turkey and pies if that tape somehow existed.

I'm getting off track here. The point is: though "broken," On the Silver Globe manages to strip humanity down to its guts. It is an ugly film, but it is also beautiful in its concession to base, raw human emotion.

I wish I had the means to break this film down in a more relatable, or even scientific way, but I don't. And, I think that's just how Zulawski wants it.




Jake Goldman is a writer and a teacher. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.  Occasionally he writes songs.  If you are so inclined, check out Internetdogfist.com for words and Otsego.Bandcamp.com for music.